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At Least on the Surface

Text of Poem

People who live in neighborhoods
learn how to tell ‘‘How are you?’’ from
‘‘What do you want?’’ without a committee
report. This keeps us in good standing
with ourselves and with each other
at least on the surface where soft words
sometimes mask hard thoughts like,
‘‘The son-of-a-bitch mows his lawn early
every Sunday morning!’’ We keep our hedges
trimmed, steps repaired, houses painted,
practice collective complaints over the
city’s negligence in gathering dead leaves,
removing snow, fixing pavements, cracking down
on noisy cars and motorcycles. There is a
sprinkling of churchgoers, earnest souls,
a raft of parents hung up on the PTA.
The kids play both ends against the middle
by wearing Sunday School faces while they
sneak out to ‘‘learn about life.’’ Eighth-grade
girls scamper out of sight, then stop and
light cigarettes, puffing and strutting with
the awkwardness known only by teenagers.
See? On the surface everything well-kept,
conscience-clean, paid-up, sunny-skies, all
respectable as a chrome-plated, plush-lined,
tinted-glass automobile, the kind we buy and drive.
But dark currents run underneath, rain keeps
the hay from being made, lightning strikes,
and blinds don’t always cover windows.

First Line
People who live in neighborhoods
Original Pub Location
Original Publication Date
Original Citation
Miscellany 15 (1976) 125.
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